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In the ftyle of panegyric, Mr. W. fays, concerning his Au thor, that he is not inferior to Milton himfelt, when he exerts his powers with the moft fuccefs on a favourite fubje&t.' The Ode on Spring he calls, the choiceft fpecimen of claffical compofition, that modern times can produce.' Of particular paffages he thus expreffes himself: Poetry never produced a more delightful picture: language itfelf has not in ftore more graces and greater magnificence of diction:'-thefe are noble images, and the true breath of infpiration.' Milton (to whom Gray was faid not to be inferior) our Critic pronounces to be the fource of every thing that is fublime and beautiful.' Pope's Eloifa he calls the fift of Poems.' Quintilian's remarks upon Demofthenes and Cicero, and Dr. Johnfon's eftimate of Dryden and Pope, he looks upon as the fineft fpecimens of elegant compofition and critical acutenefs in the world."
Notwithstanding this laft encomium, Dr. Johnfon falls under Mr. Wakefield's fevereft indignation. The refutation of his ftrictures upon Gray, he thinks a neceffary fervice to the Public, without which they may operate with malignant influence upon the public tafte. At the clofe of the notes upon the Ode on Spring, he has the following general remarks upon Dr. Johnfon's critical talen's:
If a vigorous understanding, a comprehenfive knowledge, and a capacity of found judgment, were fufficient qualifications for a work of genuine criticifm, no man was ever better furnished than he for fuch an undertaking. But a certain inelegance of tafte, a frigid churlishness of temper, unfubdued and unqualified by that melting fenfibility, that divine enthufiafm of foul, which are essential to a hearty relish of poetical compofition; and, above all, an invidious depravity of mind, warped by the moft unmanly prejudices, and operating in an unrelenting antipathy to cotemporary merit, too often counteracted and corrupted the other virtues of his intellect. Nor am I under any apprehenfion of being charged with an unjuftifiable partiality in this opinion of him, when I make no fcruple to declare, that, notwithstanding fome very exceptionable paffages, infinitely difgraceful both to his understanding and his heart, I esteem his Lives of the English Poets to be the nobleft fpecimen of entertaining and folid criticifm, that modern times have produced; well worthy of ranking on the fame fhelf with the moft diftinguished of the ancients, Ariftotle and Quintilian.'
On Dr. Johnfon's remarks upon the appeal to Father Thames, in the Ode on Eton College, he fays, The very attempt to refute fuch execrable criticifm were an infult to the taste and underftanding of the reader, if the character of its author might not poffibly give it credit.' Dr. Johnfon's animadverfions on The Progress of Poetry betray (fays our Critic) fuch a blindness to poetic beauty, and fuch an infolent ilhberality of fpirit, that it were a degradation of criticism, too great a token of refpect to
his petulance, and an infult to the judgment of the reader, to call them to a diftinct examination.' On another occafion, he pronounces his remarks to be to the last degree wretched and infipid. Dr. J. is guilty, at another time, of an impropriety of the groffeft kind, which neither gods nor men (as one expreffes himself), nor any language under heaven, can endure.'-What is the heinous offence which the good Doctor has committed? Has he ftained his hitherto fpotlefs page with ribaldry, prophanenefs, fedition, or herefy? No fuch thing: but he has faid"fhew a rhime is fometimes made'-he has omitted the relative that. What is fuch vehemence on fuch an occafion, but the rant of criticifm? But beware, gentle Reader, left thou fay, I think it is fo; for in faying this, thou wouldst thy felf commit an offence which neither gods nor men could endure.
The inconfiftency between our Author's praises and cenfures of Dr. Johnfon is too obvious to need pointing out: we shall therefore proceed to take notice of fome of his strictures upon his favourite poet.
We perfectly agree with Mr. Wakefield in his general idea (though we fhould not choose to adopt his mode of expreffing it), that Dr. Johnson was not poffeffed of delicate fenfibility; and to this caufe, as well as to his political and religious prejudices, we are inclined to impute the coldnefs with which he applauds fome of our beft writers. Mr. W.'s general defign with refpect to Mr. Gray, we entirely approve; and we are of opinion that, in many of his notes, he has exhibited the beauties of his Author in a ftriking point of light, and made very pertinent and judicious obfervations. Of this kind are the following: To Contemplation's fober eye.
"While infects from the threshold preach," &c.
161.-Gray. • Contemplation, invited by the bufy bum of the furrounding multitudes.
"There flowery hill Hymettus with the found
To fludious mufing."
Par. Reg. iv. 247.
In the fecond of these verfes we may observe an elifion fimilar to that at the beginning of this ode:
Fair Venus' train appear:
which is fomewhat harsh indeed, but unavoidable in words of fuch a termination.
I will venture to affirm, that this ftanza furnishes the most curious fpecimen of a continued metaphor-the happieft intermixture of the fimile and the fubject that the whole compafs of poetry, ancient and modern, can produce.
To Contemplation's fober eye
And they that creep, and they that fly,
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Alike the bufy and the gay,
Life's little day-the Ephemeras of the Naturalifts, and the QMapros- i. e. — ardewro-men- of Æfchylus.
Varying colours" Spartique coloribus alas." Virg.-" Variantefque colores." Lucret.
It is, however, an act of juftice to Thomfon, to acknowledge, that Mr. Gray is indebted to him on this occafion; though the original, grand and beautiful as it is, muft, in my opinion, yield to the imitation. When Mr. Gray condefcends to imitate, he recovers his level at least by fome new thoughts, fome dignity of verse, or some luminous embellishments of diction.
"Thick in yon ftream of light, a thousand ways,
On the Ode on Eton College, ver. 44, Lefs pleafing, when poffeffed,' &c. Mr. W. juftly remarks, that there is an impropriety; for though the object of hope may be truly faid to be less pleafing in poffeffion than in fancy; yet Hope in perfon (of which the poet is fpeaking) cannot poffibly be poffeffed.
The notes on this Ode conclude with the following paffage; in which (excepting only a few violent expreffions) we heartily agree with our Author:
"The Profpe of Eton College," fays Dr. Johnson, "fuggefts nothing to Gray, which every beholder does not equally think and feel."
By this confeffion then the fentiments are natural, and confonant to the feelings of humanity and furely this property is no difcredit to any compofition, but, on the contrary, the greatest recommendation of it. What indeed is poetry, but an ornamental delineation of natural objects and of human paffions? The only remaining question then is this: Whether Mr. Gray has given this exhibition with perfpicuity of method, and in elegant, intelligible, and expreffive language? And this, I think, no man will have the effrontery to difpute. Our critic proceeds: "His fupplication to father Thames, to tell him who drives the hoop or toffes the ball, is ufelefs and puerile. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself."
Juft fo, when Virgil Invokes the river Arethusa to aid his laft
"Extremum hunc, Arethufa, mihi concede laborem"
we might fay: This invocation of Arethufa is puerile and ufelefs: fhe could not hinder him from writing this paftoral if he chofe; nor give him any affiftance, if he did write it.
Or, when we read thofe elegant verfes in the Mufa Anglicana-
Dicite (vos et amant mufæ, et vos carmina noftis)
Flumine) quos crebrò gemitus dabat inclytus amnis;
But ye, who Eton's verdant plain frequent
What fighs, what groans fent forth the neighb'ring ftream,
If we were defirous of being ridiculous and abfurd, we might remark, that this enquiry into the groans and lamentations of Father Thames was foolish, and of no use. Of no use, because they knew no more of the matter than the poet knew and foolish, because Father Thames neither groaned nor lamented at all on this occafion.
Indeed the very attempt to refute fuch execrable criticism were an infult to the taste and understanding of the reader, if the character of its author might not poffibly give it credit.
"His epithet buxom health is not elegant: he feems not to under
ftand the word:"
The primitive meaning, to be fure, feems to have been obfequious or yielding: but the Doctor bears witness against himself, when he explains the term by gay-lively-brifk, from Crashaw; and by wanton-jelly-from Dryden.
Gray thought his language more poetical as it was more remote from common ufe."
Indeed! and I will venture to maintain, that this rule in general will be no bad criterion of poetic language, if it be not carried to the exceffes of obfcurity and tumour. Horace was of the fame opinion, who excluded his fermoni perpiora from the claim of poetry for this very reason; and makes the os magna fonaturum-lofty expreffon, remote from the familiarity of common converfation and popular phrafeology, to be of the effence of poetry, and indeed characteristic of it. The MORTAL tafte, I prefume, which occurs in the fimple enarration of Milton's fubject, is very remote from common ufe: but is it not poetical? And could it be otherwife flattened into profe, than by the fubftitution of fome familiar and frigid epithet?
"Finding in Dryden, Honey redolent of Spring, an expreffion that reaches the utmost limits of our language, Gray drove it a little more beyond common apprehenfion, by making gales to be redolent of joy and youth."
That elegant, luminous, and magnificent diction, which gives Mr. Gray the fuperiority, in point of language, over all other poets; Dr. Johnfon could neither relish in others nor attain himself. His
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ideas were grand, but his tafte was bad. No man has ever exceeded in fublimity his lines on Shakespear:
"Each change of many-colour'd life he drew
But his poetical pieces, were they rigorously examined, would be found to confift of language feldom elevated, often harfh and mean, and commonly profaic. He might be capable of producing"Their lot forbade: nor circumfcrib'd alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd:
But this were far beyond his powers
"But not to one in this benighted age
That burns in Shakespear's or in Milton's page;
In short, he had the thoughts that breathe, but by no means the words that burn.'
The following remarks on Pindaric poetry, introductory to the Notes on The Progrefs of Poetry, and The Bard, are excel
Thefe two Pindaric Odes of Mr. Gray have a much greater refemblance to the Odes of the Theban bard, than any thing of the kind in our own, and probably in any other language. Wildness of thought and irregularity of verfe had ufually been esteemed the only way to refemble Pindar. The characteristic excellences of Pindar's poetry are fublimity of conception, boldness of metaphor, dignity of tile, rapidity of compofition, and magnificence of phrafeology. If a fair judgment can be formed upon thofe few fpecimens, which the defolations of time have fpared, in grandeur of imagery and regularity of thought he is furpaffed by Mr. Gray; as, on the other hand, he may justly claim a fuperiority from the moral dignity of his com-pofitions.
Thefe fublime and elaborate productions of genius chaftifed by learning, and of learning invigorated by genius, are from their nature by no means calculated to please the generality of readers, efpecially upon a flight acquaintance. A frequent and diligent contemplation of them is neceffary to an adequate perception of their beauties; and, perhaps, no finall tincture of that erudition, which enabied the author to produce them. Indeed, that spirit of lyrical infpiration, which they breathe-that divine glow of pathos, which at the fame time melts and inflames the reader-cannot operate with their full effect, but on a congenial foul, attuned to the bold vibrations of enthufiaftic poefy. The motto juftly proclaims
Φωνανία συνελοισιν ες
Δε το παν ἑρμηνεων χιλίζει.
To wisdom's ear 'tis fenfe and sweetness all: